Story and photos by Al Rogers
On Aug. 10, 1968, Lance Corporal Curt Wright boarded a commercial airliner dressed in full military uniform for a trip en route to his home base in Danville, Ill. Lance Corporal Wright had just finished two months of formal training at the 29 Palms facility in California. It had been nearly one year since he had joined the U.S. Marines Corps, and it seemed he was destined for action in the Vietnam War.
As Lance Corporal Wright made his way down the aisle to his unassigned seat for the flight that would take him home for a brief visit, the 20-year-old Marine was met with cold stares and upturned noses from the civilian passengers. As he searched for a seat, he endured snide whispers and derogatory remarks directed toward his military unit.
Once the plane took off, Wright looked from left to right and back to front and realized there wasn’t another passenger for at least five rows in each direction. His fellow passengers had gone out of their way to sit as far from the young Marine as possible.
Early in the flight, a stewardess approached the Marine and asked if he’d like to follow her to the cockpit so the captain could see him. After overhearing the comments from the passengers and watching them turn a cold shoulder, Wright thought to himself, “What now?” and reluctantly made his way to the front of the airplane. When Wright entered the cockpit, the captain introduced himself and then invited the Marine to sit in the open seat behind him.
After a brief introduction, the captain went on to say how he’d heard how the other passengers had responded to the Marine on the flight. He told the young Marine not to take the other passengers’ actions personally or to let it get the best of him. The captain explained that he’d served in the military himself and that for most of the civilian population, a military uniform was looked upon as the enemy. “They don’t understand the loyalty and code of honor of being a Marine,” he added. “You made the choice to put on the uniform today and sometimes you have to be prepared for resistance to the war effort. It might seem like you’re the one they’re directing the protest towards, but it’s really the uniform.”
During the flight, the captain offered additional words of encouragement and even some advice: “When you get home, take time to work on your relationship with your significant other. Get yourself a hobby or find a way to occupy your time with something you enjoy. Find yourself a nice car, maybe the car you’ve always wanted. Most important, be proud of yourself and don’t let people bother you with their comments. Make yourself a useful person.”
Once the flight landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Lance Corporal Wright extended his right hand and thanked the captain for giving him the ride of his life. The captain had made a lasting impression on the Marine and what had started out as a bad day turned into one he’d never forget. At the time, it’s likely the captain did not realize how his words of wisdom impacted Lance Corporal Wright and inspired and motivated him for the rest of his life.
Before he could be deployed to Vietnam, Lance Corporal Wright underwent a physical exam where a doctor found that Wright had a medical condition from an earlier illness that had damaged his heart and lungs. The prognosis was to rest for at least one year. Since Lance Corporal Wright did not meet the physical requirements to travel with his unit to Vietnam, he was given a choice to take a medical discharge or return to reserve status with the Marines under strict orders to allow his body to heal while finding a purposeful way to serve his country. Wright stayed on with the Marine Corps. until March 1973.
Not long after returning home, Wright began putting his life in order, which included a trip to Glen T. Smith Chrysler-Plymouth in Danville where Wright’s father, Ralph, had purchased many of the family automobiles.
Dealership co-owner Win Smith took an active role in helping Wright place the order for a notchback ’69 Plymouth Barracuda. The order included a 383-cid V-8, automatic transmission, Jamaica Midnight Blue paint and black interior.
About six weeks after placing the order, Smith called Wright to tell him the ’69 Barracuda had arrived. The following day, Wright looked it over and went over the finances only to realize he could not afford the car. Dejected, he left the dealership empty handed.
Later, Smith called Wright and asked if he could place an order for a new ’70 Plymouth Barracuda under the Marine’s name. With the introduction of the newly designed Barracuda, the quickest way to get one to the dealership was to attach a name to an order.
Reluctantly, Wright agreed to submit the order. He and Smith went over the details and decided to essentially mirror the ’69 Barracuda order. Fortunately, the B7 Jamaica Blue paint color carried over from the previous model year. This new 1970 Barracuda was to be paired with the black leather interior, 383-cid V-8 engine, automatic transmission and air conditioning. Plymouth offered a special Gran Coupe edition for the 1970 model year with an upgraded interior trim package, Gran Coupe trim emblem badges, full overhead console and other unique items as part of the package. Smith and Wright checked that box, too.
Not long after ordering the ’70 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe, a local newspaper called Wright and offered him a position in the printing department. Wright had worked for a printing company prior to joining the military and the company held his spot while he served his country. He accepted the job with the local newspaper and took his career to a new level by going into a formal printer apprenticeship program. With the new job came an increase in wages.
On Nov. 28, 1969, the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe arrived at the dealership and this time, Wright had the financial means to take delivery. It was one of the proudest days of his young life and in the back of his mind, Wright thought back to the conversation he had with the captain.
The ’70 Barracuda Gran Coupe served as Wright’s daily driver for about a year. It was then parked and only driven on special occasions after Wright located a ’58 Chevy station wagon. He painted the wagon and it became the perfect daily driver.
Over the next 30 years, Wright became a husband, father and successful business owner. In 2003, he decided to restore his Gran Coupe. For the next seven years, he methodically worked on the car in his spare time. Then one day he ran into Ken Mosier, owner of The Finer Details. Wright had gone to the Indy Cylinder Head show in Indianapolis with the intent of purchasing a heater control valve. During a conversation with Mosier, Wright talked about being the original owner of an unrestored ’70 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe. Without hesitation, Mosier said, “Let me and my team restore it.” After gaining the encouragement of his wife, Nancy, Wright decided to turn the rotisserie restoration over to The Finer Details.
For two years, the Gran Coupe progressed through a complete restoration. What started out as a plan to clean it up and to remove some of the chips and scratches left by Wright turned into an award-winning restoration.
In November 2012, the ’70 Plymouth Barracuda debuted at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., during the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals event. It was there that I found the car and met its owner, discovering what an important vehicle it was to him.
“It represents a time in my life when I was transformed from a boy to a man, overnight,” Wright said. “The military has a way of doing that. To this day, I can stare at the car knowing it’s been with me for all of my adult life. I’d have to call it a symbol of survival.”
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